Interesting Times

Today, I celebrate a quarter of a century on this little rock in space that we call home. I turn 25 in a turbulent moment — antisemitism is on the rise, Australia is on fire, we’ve impeached a corrupt President, and now the United States stands on the brink of war with Iran. We occupy such a small space in the universe, such a tiny moment in its history, yet we wreak havoc on ourselves far beyond our station. Or perhaps it only seems so, given that we have nothing to compare it to.

Sometimes, all the things which are happening in the world today can weigh down on you like a big, heavy rock. It can feel hard to stay motivated to keep fighting. You wonder if maybe you’ve been insufficiently radical, or insufficiently compromising, or if there’s really a point to it all. I wonder a lot if all of the political work I do actually matters, actually moves the needle in a meaningful way. Maybe I should resolve to think more about that in 2020.

And you’re scared: scared about the fact that we’ve passed the point where unprecedented, rapid climate change is inevitable, and hopes to mitigate it are rapidly diminishing. Scared about war with Iran, about the lives that will be lost on both sides. Scared about the election, that our organizing won’t be enough and bigotry will win the day in America again, or that we’ll win but it will be with someone who won’t make meaningful progress on any of the things that need desperately to be fixed.

It feels weird to celebrate a birthday when there’s so much to be afraid of in the world. I find myself thinking about my mom, who lived in Iran for a little while in the ’70s, just before the revolution. Whenever she tells me stories about that time, she tells me about how like us her neighbors were, how decent, how hospitable. Not all of them were, but not all of them are here, either. The family apparently became quite close with a young couple who lived in the same building. My mom wonders what happened to them — we’ll probably never know.

There’s an “ancient Chinese saying”, a curse really, that as far as we are aware is actually a complete fabrication by the English, invented at some point during the first half of the twentieth century: “may you live in interesting times”. To anyone who ever doubted why that wish would be interpreted as a curse, I invite you to look around. We are living through moments for the history books. I hope we will rise to the challenge, and I hope that, when I celebrate having gone another quarter of a century around the Sun, it will be in a better world.

I guess the point of this post is to say that it’s okay if you’re afraid about the times we live in. I am too. I think anyone who isn’t is probably bluffing or just doesn’t know enough about what’s happening in the world.

I posted a video to Twitter a couple days ago, when Congressman John Lewis announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer. I met him in 2018 at a rally for Kathy Manning, who was running for Congress at the time (and is now doing so again). I could have asked for a selfie or a piece of advice for myself. But I knew that my little sister was studying him and his role in the civil rights movement for a class at the time, so I asked the Congressman if he’d be kind enough to record a short video for her. Of course he was — Congressman Lewis is a deeply kind soul.

I think the words he recorded that day are something we could all stand to hear right now: “Be kind, be hopeful, be optimistic. Never get down. It’s all going to be okay, all going to be alright. We are one people, we are one family. We all live in the same house. Not just the American house, but the world house. I wish you well.”

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